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Couple’s Custom Van Conversion

This is the story of Melanie and George’s custom van conversion. You can also find them over at asmalllife.com and @asmalllife on Instagram. So here’s their story, in their own words.

Related: Couple Living in ’78 Airstream Tiny Home

Melanie and George’s Custom Van Conversion!

Two years ago we started to recognize our need for a vehicle to haul projects. And although we love our small home, we also wanted something a little more nimble and stealthy for camping trips. So, as we do, we got to Craigslistin’. And as always, it didn’t disappoint. George, my husband, picked up our 1995 Chevy G30 1 ton van for $850. It had previously been a printing company’s van and a band’s van after that.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted our van to be reminiscent of a ’70s boogie van– you know, those vans with murals on the outside and a lot of shag carpeting on the inside. We ultimately decided against both the mural and the shag carpeting, but brought in those ’70s elements with the vintage knobs on the storage space and the furry seat covers.

The first big project we did was ripping out the blue carpet and taking out the old seats. Underneath the carpet was a layer of high density foam padding. This was a pleasant surprise because the padding helps to insulate the van. After the carpet and seats were out, we built the bed.

We purchased plush, 4″ foam from a local fabric store for the mattress. They even cut it for us! While we were at the fabric store, we also bought fabric to make the curtains. Ultimately, we decided to position the bed in the back of the van so we’d have more floor space for project haulin’. By positioning the bed this way, George, who is 6’4″ does have less leg room, but he ends up sleeping at an angle with his feet on the camper toilet box.

Speaking of our toilet box (how fancy!), next we built several boxes out of old barnwood and some new scrap wood we had laying around. We built a box for the front seat, so Bambi, our dog, has a place to ride. That box also doubles as a cup holder and storage, as well. We also built a box to house our camper toilet for night time emergencies. Lastly, we built a long storage bar for housing camping and van necessities, like tools, firestarters, etc.

After we had all of the boxes in, we screwed in the floor and the wood walls. We used plywood on the floor and we painted it with an oil based paint. We’ve had good luck with using oil based paint on floors in the past. For the wood walls, we purchased untreated fence boards, whitewashed them and screwed ’em up on the walls.

The most difficult thing we did was put up a canvas drop cloth on the ceiling. For the ceiling in the front seat, we simply cut out pieces of an old ’70s van book and Mod Podged them to the ceiling. That was fairly easy, but a little bit stressful, because we had to ensure there were no creases in the paper. The ceiling in the rest of the van was more difficult. We took a small foam roller, coated it in wood glue, then rolled it onto the thin particle board that was already in the van and attached, then smoothed the drop cloth to the ceiling. This was hard, hot work and if I had to do it again, I’d remove the ceiling first, then attach the drop cloth and screw the ceiling back in.

We searched forever for an inexpensive light with a low profile for the front seat, but we came up short. Finally we were in the hardware store one day and George found that small galvanized bucket, so we cut a hole in the bottom, turned it upside down and screwed it in– creating a light for less than $10!

The very last thing we did was add the wood pieces on the ceiling and on the back and side doors. The wood that we used was the last little bit we had leftover from repairing a barn on our property. Putting the wood on the ceiling and doors was just a matter of cutting and screwing!

I couldn’t be prouder of the way the van turned out. It was a true low-budget reno. It functions well for our needs and I think it looks pretty groovy.



  1. http://asmalllife.com/
  2. https://www.instagram.com/asmalllife/
  3. https://tinyhousetalk.com/couple-living-78-airstream-tiny-home/

Our big thanks to Melanie for sharing!

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Mindy
    August 23, 2017, 12:28 am

    On the road again. 😁 For travel this is Perfect. Love the wood on the walls.

  • ChuckY
    August 23, 2017, 10:12 am

    Even has the cassette player in front. Far out!

  • Susan Lantz
    August 23, 2017, 1:51 pm

    I love this conversion! It is made with salvaged materials and it doesn’t look it has been thrown together. Well thought out. Great Job!

  • Arlene McCormick
    September 2, 2017, 12:50 am

    LOVE IT!!! I (fondly) remember those vans. My mother told me never to go in one lol, but who listens : ) Great job guys!! Happy Camping

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